A weekend of celebrations recently for the RH&DR that was 90 years old on Sunday 16th July. A terrific milestone in its history and a weekend to commemorate the occasion had been arranged and partly funded by the RH&DR Association with the full support and co-operation of the staff and management of the RH&DR.
Members of the RH&DRA Heritage Group were dressed in the style of the Railway’s founders including Andy Nash as Captain Howey (founder and owner of the railway) and Simon Parsons as Henry Greenly (original designer of the locos and engineer). As well as a replica of the famous armoured train on display, there was also a restored original 4-wheeled coach which was used in the late 1920s. An exhibition of photographs and memorabilia of what the local area would have been like all those years ago was on display at New Romney (and is open for the rest of the summer), and the workshops were open to visitors as well.
The first event of the weekend was a re-creation of the ‘School Train’ that ran from New Romney to Burmarsh Road and back, taking pupils to Southlands School between 1977 and 2005. The original train was hauled by Typhoon and Hurricane as was the 2017 replica. Richard Batten and Eric Copping were the drivers back in 1977. This year, the drivers were Stewart Christensen and Derek Walsh on Typhoon and Richard Batten and Roger Munn on Hurricane. Sadly, Eric Copping died some years ago. The other main event was ‘The Inaugural Express’, which after a re-enactment of the opening ceremony at Hythe in 1927, Loco No. 5 Hercules ran non-stop to New Romney, before carrying on to Dungeness. At Dungeness, there was a reception and speech by the RH&DR General Manager, Danny Martin.
During the two days, all the locomotives carried special headboards celebrating the various decades. The 1930s was represented by ‘The Black Prince Express’ in honour of the engine built in Germany in 1937. Awaiting overhaul, the loco was on display at New Romney over the weekend. ‘The Lonesome Pine’ was the theme of the 1940s when Laurel & Hardy re-opened the railway after the Second World War with Doctor Syn being the loco.
‘The Elizabethan’ was aptly named for the 1950s with Queen Elizabeth II coming to the throne and Hurricane had the honour of carrying the Royal Family when they visited the railway in 1957. When Captain Howey died in 1963, his widow sold the railway to a Mr. Collins who helped to put the line on a more business like footing. A major improvement was to replace the old Duke of York’s bridge near St. Mary’s Bay and it was renamed Collins Bridge. The 1960s therefore were represented by ‘The Collins Express’.
In 1977 the railway was licensed to carry letters posted at the stations and ‘The Mail Train’ could be seen on The Bug over the weekend as it hauled one of the first mail trains. ‘The JBS Limited’ was a tribute to John Snell who was managing director of the railway through the 1980s. By securing a contract to transport children to Southlands School in New Romney from Dymchurch and St. Mary’s Bay, it was possible to purchase a new diesel loco to haul the morning and afternoon train and save having to light two steam engines each day. Originally, the loco was named John Southland after the founder of the school but was renamed JB Snell in his memory after his death in 2013.
‘The Kent Coast Express’ was named for the 1990s as a new service was introduced in the high-season to run non-stop from Hythe to Dungeness and back. No. 3 Southern Maid carried that headboard. The 2000s headboard was ‘The Martinian’ and could be seen on No. 2 Northern Chief. This was in honour of Danny Martin taking over the onerous task of running the railway when John Snell retired in 2000.
At the end of running on the Saturday, there was a photo-shoot of all the locomotives outside the Engine Shed at New Romney. Also in attendance during Saturday were Captain Howey’s Grand-daughter and Great Grand-daughter and there were also relatives of Henry Greenly and Davey Paxman, who built seven of the original locomotives. There was good weather for the weekend that attracted large crowds and thanks are due to the organisers for a great 90th birthday party.